Beyond Established Patterns
Kari Dyrdal, Norwegian textile artist and professor at Bergen Academy of Art and Design, has spent the last five years studying digital tools and pattern formation. In carrying out this artistic development project, her method has been to be open to the possibilities that can be achieved with new technology. The project has culminated in a publication enabling Dyrdal to share her reflections on patterns and textiles with an expanded group of professionals.
Kari Dyrdal held a solo show at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo in 2007. There the public encountered textiles Dyrdal had produced at Audax Textiel Museum in Tilburg in the Netherlands. This was the first phase of an inquiry into her own transition from hand-weaving to digitized weaving techniques.
After five years and two more series of works created at Audax, a ‘living museum’ as Dyrdal calls it, she returned to Kunstnerforbundet in March 2012. This time she presented one of her most recent Audax tapestries and also used the occasion to launch a book marking the end of the five-year project: Mønster Arbeider / Pattern Works 2007-2011, published by Bergen Academy of Art and Design. In recent years the school has heavily emphasized publishing knowledge related to the practical aesthetic disciplines. This has resulted in reports published under the series-title Sensuous Knowledge, which presents artistic research and development directly or indirectly related to the institution.
« In the series Jacquard Stories I gather my motifs from jacquard looms, manual looms and textile tools.»Kari Dyrdal
Patterns and techniques
Dyrdal relates that as a professor, she has been urged by the Bergen Academy of Art and Design to engage in artistic research. The project she developed looked both backwards and forwards:
‘It became clear to me that it would be natural to study patterns, that is, the way I order and structure the surfaces of my weavings. I initially focused on patterns and reports and started doing a precise study of how I, as a hand-weaver, could adopt a digitised production form. I wanted to find out how new tools and techniques would affect my ways of constructing patterns. To get started on an artistic development project you of course need a starting point, but you also need to be open enough so that, along the way, you can see where it might lead.’
Dyrdal says her encounter with digital tools was rich, investigative, disruptive and constructive:
‘I’ve been swept along by the work, and now I’ve come to the point where I ask, ‘Can this be a pattern?’ I believe it is, but now members of the public can see and experience the result and draw their own conclusions.’
Dyrdal is of course aware that there can be several answers to the question she asks. Furthermore, it is possible to ask any number of completely different questions related to the theme of patterns.
‘The ways I’ve chosen to handle patterns constitute only three small approaches to a very large field. So in the publication I’ve included texts by two other authors who can give other perspectives on patterns.’
These other authors – Bergen Academy of Art and Design’s professor and art historian Jorunn Veiteberg and Ben Highmore, professor of cultural studies at the University of Sussex – wrote their essays based on their own perspectives of her theme, says Dyrdal.
«I wanted to find out how new tools and techniques would affect my ways of constructing patterns.»Kari Dyrdal
Tools and craftsmanship
‘A pattern is a matter of repeating individual elements, or apparently similar elements, in some kind of order. In the most recent series, Jacquard Stories, I gather my motifs from jacquard looms, manual looms and textile tools. Repetitions are here in the motifs, so I think these latest works also represent patterns, since even here I follow the same method of repeating and organizing the elements in the the woven tapestry.’
The work Dyrdal presents at Kunstnerforbundet in 2012 is almost five meters long. Its starting point is a photo she took of part of an older loom and is called Harness and Board II. It belongs to a series of fifteen works. In-between the first and last series she created during her research and development project – Material to Pattern / Pattern to Material, (exhibited in 2007), and the latest series, Jacquard Stories – Dyrdal created a series called Homage to Grandmother. The aspect of repetition can also be found here, but many viewers will probably recognize that it is on a different level: in the woven surfaces, Dyrdal re-creates photos of textile handcrafts made with techniques such as crocheting and tatting. With their neutrally coloured backgrounds, the works almost suggest the portrait genre. The woven motifs stem from Dyrdal’s memories of her grandmother, who taught her never to sit down without having some handiwork to do. As such, her grandmother’s attitudes, knowledge and crafting techniques are passed down to the younger generation.
‘Many people know a lot about textiles, so the works I make seem also to have this ability to communicate and can largely be read even before my research is published. Both they and the published research can communicate with a wide public.’
Dyrdal has exhibited many times, even in small venues such as Osterøy Museum in Hordaland. In April-May 2012, some of her art is on show at Norsk Trikotasjemuseum in Salhus near Bergen. She emphasizes that these and other museums where she has exhibited are not modern art galleries, nor do they have a ‘white cube’ aesthetic; they are historic factories that used to produce textiles and clothing in huge volumes.
‘An amazing thing about textile artworks is that everyone can relate to the material – it’s always possible to experience these works based on one’s personal background. I find that amongst the public, there are many who say they ‘have knowhow’ on making textiles, and so they often manage to read this material. For instance, in my motifs of looms, many people see a connection to craftsmanship and learning to make things yourself. But other meanings can be read into them; they may suggest a landscape of memory. Many artists deal with this theme, so I see these works as capable of telling stories in several different ways.’
«Anyone can use a computer program, but the question is: what’s it supposed to be for? What are you as an artist going to do with it? What’s it going to do for you? »Kari Dyrdal
One of Dyrdal’s goals for the project was to reflect on her own encounter with new technology and techniques. Photo-editing of her own digital pictures was an important new skill.
‘I used photos I myself have taken. I made all my own decisions and didn’t rely on anyone else. It took a long time to understand how Photoshop could serve me, conceptually. It’s a democratic tool but also a very large program, and you have to find your own way of using it. It’s a matter of adapting it to my needs. Of course anyone can use a computer program, but the question is: what’s it supposed to be for? What are you as an artist going to do with it? What’s it going to do for you? Now-a-days it’s possible to produce things quickly; you can make and produce, just for the sake of making, but that’s not where the challenge lies. You must ask: Why should I make it? What do I want to say? – This is the crux of the matter for me. There’s a kind of maturation that runs parallel to a project, and this maturing process takes time.’
´The idea of publishing this research came later in the project – it wasn’t part of my original idea. These research and development projects in Bergen are carried out in different ways, and not everyone ends up publishing their work. Applying for funds for a publication, which is an expensive thing, is a separate stage. The academy decides whether it will allot funds: it does the publishing, publicity and is also the institution that most uses the research. But much of the work of creating a publication falls on the artist doing the project. When I put the publication together, the school’s editorial group also becomes involved. One requirement for having it published is that a European research committee, which the school has established, must approve the contents. If they do, it moves on to peer review. If the peers find it interesting, the school can choose to publish it.’
Can you use these texts yourself?
‘In the first instance, I think mostly about whether the academy will use them, since it’s the academy that publishes and launches the book. This happened only fourteen days ago. Is this a research focus the academy wants? The exhibition here also just opened last week, so the publication hasn’t been reviewed yet in Bergen. I am waiting to see how the school will use this material, which I and others have poured so much energy and resources into making.’
Will this be part of the curriculum?
‘The students have no conventional curriculum, but I hope it can be something both the students and the staff will be interested in, yet from slightly different perspectives.’
Do you feel it’s correct to publish a costly book such as this, especially if there’s the possibility of using the resources it took to produce it more directly in your artistic practice?
´Yes, I think it’s a good use of time, effort and money, amongst other resources. In Bergen we discuss whether it’s right to use money on printing things out on paper and all the costs related to having information in hard copy; maybe it’s more relevant to publish on Internet, or as an e-book. But what’s important is to make the knowledge visible, and in Bergen we talk a lot about the significance of making competence visual, since it’s a small school in a small country. So I think these published research projects are absolutely essential – not only for the students, or for raising the number of applicants or building up the student environment, but also for a large research community. This also needs building up, and it includes individual artists and other professionals from museums and other institutions. What I envision is that the academy in Bergen should establish a centre for solid textile competence, where there can be cooperation between staff and external professionals who want to study and challenge the textile field, both together and in collaboration with the students. Now that the school’s textile department is on the verge of being drawn into yet-another merger with other departments – the Department of Specialised Art (material-based art, which includes the old textile institute) and the Art Academy will merge to become ‘Department of Fine Art’ – this is a way we can keep a space clear for textiles at the school.´
This article builds on and quotes from a discussion between Kari Dyrdal and Christer Dynna at Kunstnerforbundet in March of 2012. The article has been updated with new images in August 2018.
Kari Dyrdal won the prestigious 2011 Kunsthåndverkprisen (‘Arts and Crafts Prize’) for her work entitled Valser, which she produced at Audax. In 2010 she was awarded a silver medal for the work Lingo at the international textile triennial in Lodz, Poland. The same year she received the Special Prize at the Latvian Art Museum for her textile entitled Lodd. These two works are respectively included in the collections of the Riga Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. Dyrdal’s art can also be seen in major museums throughout Norwaykari/.
Textile Design, Croydon College of Art and Technology, London
Textile, Norwegian College of Applied Art and Design, Bergen
Elise Jakhelln’s Vevstue
Oslo Husflidsskole, one-year diploma in weaving